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Political hijinks at the Vatican this week

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 14, 2016

Two conferences with disturbing political overtones have taken place at the Vatican this week.

1. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in cooperation with Pax Christi, has held a conference on non-violence. Or perhaps, in light of the report issued at the conclusion of the meeting it would be more accurate to say that the conference was about just-war theory, with participants coming down heavily in opposition to the Church’s traditional teaching that the use of deadly force against an aggressor can be morally justifiable.

The Catholic Church has a long, proud tradition of resisting violence, promoting alternatives to warfare, and demanding moral restraints on military strategies. But at this point in history, with hundreds of thousands of Christians facing the prospect of death at the hands of unusually brutal aggressors, is this the time to counsel pacifism? Unless we intend to stand by and watch the slaughter of our fellow Christians in the Middle East—and perhaps in Europe, too, and who knows where else—we must give some thought to the best ways of defending those who cannot defend themselves. If we plan to do that by moral means, then we will be consulting the norms of the just-war tradition.

The alternatives facing us, realistically, are not likely to be war and peace. More likely we will face a choice among three options: just war, unjust war, and massacre.

2. During a presidential election season, the leading candidates do virtually nothing but eat, sleep, and campaign. So when a leading American candidate decides to take a quick trip abroad just before a critical primary vote, it’s reasonable to assume that he thinks the trip will serve his political interests. Senator Bernie Sanders is evidently still angling for a meeting with the Pope: a photo-op that could be worth tens of thousands of votes. But even if he does not manage to pull off that meeting (which, Vatican officials assure us, is not on the papal schedule), he will gain something by his participation in an otherwise remarkable conference organized by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.

So you might ask yourself: How did Sanders—whose political views are radically at odds with Catholic teachings—wangle an invitation to a Vatican conference? And the answer comes back: Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo.

This is not the first time that Bishop Sanchez Sorondo has used his position as chancellor of the Pontifical Academy to advance leftist political views. He is not subtle in his dealings; he once loosed a disgraceful rant against critics who called attention to his partisan dealings. So although the president of the Pontifical Academy thinks it is “monumental discourtesy” for Sanders to use a Vatican conference as a campaign publicity stunt, don’t put it past the Argentine bishop to try to arrange that photo op with the Pope.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 15, 2016 11:09 PM ET USA

    Saving Middle-Eastern Christians, as the Russians are tutoring the U.S. about, can easily meet the conditions of a just conflict: the damage inflicted by ISIS is lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of ending the aggression have proven ineffective; Russia has shown how success can be achieved; the use of arms by the defenders pales in terms of physical evil when measured against the slicing off of heads by the aggressor. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do noth

  • Posted by: garedawg - Apr. 15, 2016 12:40 PM ET USA

    One of the tenets of Just War Theory is that the expected outcome must be worth the effort. I haven't seen a whole lot of that in the recent wars that we've been involved in. I don't know what plans a President Sanders would have, but actually following Just War Theory would be a good move away from the recent pointless conflicts.

  • Posted by: jeanneg117438 - Apr. 14, 2016 6:52 PM ET USA

    Is it only in war that Pax Christi denies the justice of the use of force? What about a personal attack by an individual or group of individuals? If an individual is allowed to protect himself or others, why is a nation not allowed to? Conversely, if a nation is not allowed to defend itself in a just war, are individuals allowed to defend themselves or their family by a use of force? What principle would prohibit the former but allow the later? Sounds like free reign for robbers and rapists...